When the school year ends, Oakton Community College plans to dismiss dozens of adjunct instructors who are retired and collecting a state pension. The school recently was fined $150,000 for violating a new law limiting how much those retirees' can earn.
One can hardly blame Oakton, which has campuses in Des Plaines and Skokie, for letting the instructors go -- officials there are accountable to taxpayers and this would be a chance to avoid unnecessary penalties. But it's important to note that adjunct faculty who return after a teaching career bring a wealth of knowledge and experience at a bargain price to the college. Any effort to keep them around would be beneficial to students, both at Oakton and other colleges facing the same challenge.
Under the Return to Work Act of 2012, the State University Retirement System fines colleges when instructors and other retired-but-rehired workers receive more than 40 percent of their highest preretirement pay. The law protects taxpayers from retirees adding to lucrative public pensions by earning hefty salaries that are also funded by the public.
We have a strong distaste for double-dipping on state pay. But there's a difference between a retired instructor adding to a moderate pension by teaching a few classes each year and another accepting, for instance, a high-level administrative position in a local school district.
Adjuncts typically are paid much less than full-time faculty, and their part-time employment in retirement does not allow them to accrue any future pension benefits. What's more, former employees already have proved themselves as effective teachers and are committed to the college community, thereby reducing staff turnover.
There's room for compromise, and good reason to find it. Better monitoring of hours and pay would be a sensible solution, but Oakton spokeswoman Janet Spector Bishop told Daily Herald reporter Christopher Placek that such a system is hard to manage and staff. But local school districts, which face similar rules, have managed. State law limits the number of days retired K-12 teachers can substitute, and districts have found ways to track them and avoid repercussions.
Oakton could look to Harper College in Palatine, which last year negotiated with the adjunct faculty union to end new hiring of retirees but allow current retired instructors to continue teaching two courses a year. College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn stopped hiring retirees in June but will make exceptions based on need and other factors.
This law wasn't meant to punish adjunct instructors looking to contribute their expertise while earning some extra cash. Chalk it up as an unfortunate and unintended consequence of the legislation. A bill awaiting Gov. Pat Quinn's signature would ease some of the rules. He should sign it, and community colleges should carefully review their decisions on retiree adjuncts.